Home > Sabbath Evenings > Sabbath Evenings – On Forgiveness (C.S. Lewis)

Sabbath Evenings – On Forgiveness (C.S. Lewis)

Last week, I started reading C.S. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory. Actually, in reality, truth be told, I skipped to the chapter on forgiveness. Lately, I have come back to the scriptural theme of the forgiveness of sins—for my clients and me personally.  I feel as though I have overlooked a few important points.  In his chapter, Lewis confirms and agrees that most certainly I have!  I want to learn more about the forgiveness that Jesus holds out for Believers, to test it out in therapy with clients, and practice it personally as I never have before—as a daily, hourly, minutely, etc. discipline (and delight) of the heart.

Lewis begins the chapter wondering why the church, in its Creed, confesses “the forgiveness of sins.” He thought that since we are Christians that it “goes without saying”  that we believe in the forgiveness of sins.  But then, he thought a bit more and wrote “To believe in the forgiveness of sins is not nearly so easy as I thought.” Aha!  He is already addressing human nature in this one sentence. I love Lewis’ way of thinking.  Eagerly and with my morning cuppa I read the short chapter.  Here is one of my favorite excerpts. Enjoy [Do you have helpful quotes, chapters or books you have read on forgiveness?  Of course, the Bible is crammed with verses, chapters, and stories just on forgiveness. Please share!]

Now it seems to me that we often make a mistake both about God’s forgiveness of our sins and about the forgiveness we are told to offer to other people’s sins. Take it first about God’s forgiveness. I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch myself very carefully) asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking Him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says “Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before. ” But excusing says “I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it you weren’t really to blame.” If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites. …. But the trouble is that what we call “asking God’s forgiveness” very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses. What leads us into this mistake is the fact that there usually is some amount of excuse, some “extenuating circumstances.” We are so very anxious to point these out to God (and to ourselves) that we are apt to forget the really important thing; that is, the bit left over, the bit which the excuses don’t cover, the bit which is inexcusable, but not, thank God, unforgivable. And if we forget this, we shall go away imagining that we have repented and been forgiven when all that has really happened is that we have satisfied ourselves with our own excuses. In our own case we accept excuses too easily; in other people’s we do not accept them easily enough…..One must therefore begin by attending to everything which may show that the other man was not so much to blame as we thought. But even if he is absolutely fully to blame we still have to forgive him; and even if ninety-nine percent of his apparent guilt can be explained away by really good excuses, the problem of forgiveness begins with the one percent of guilt which is left over. To excuse what can really produce good excuses is not Christian charity; it is only fairness. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.

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Categories: Sabbath Evenings
  1. Leona
    August 8, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Amen C.S.!
    I agree with CS… I AM guilty. I know my behavior, attitude or whatever it is/was wrong… I know I am forgiven when I ask for forgiveness. I have no excuse for my behavior, but, to be quite honest… how do you get rid of satan’s still small voice that keeps saying guilty!?

    • Lisa
      August 10, 2010 at 7:57 am

      Leona, that’s a great question. I wonder if it is Satan’s voice or is it your own – meaning, could that voice be your own subjective sense of self-inflicted guilt? I have noticed in others and myself that even though God announces forgiveness and “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Ro. 8.1) – that there is this leftover guilt. God does not want His forgiven kids to be immobilized by guilt. His forgiveness puts guilt to flight. Satan can no longer accuse you or I! So where does the residual guilt come from? Possibly past experiences . . . our hearts deceive us, too. When false guilt starts in on me (and that is definitely my default mode), I have learned to look to Christ’s cross and lift that guilt to Him. Look up and out to Jesus. This is how God heals and trains our hearts. Does that make sense?

  2. Phyllis
    August 10, 2010 at 6:17 am

    I am also reading a book on forgiveness — a very different book. The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness by Simon Wiesenthal. In short, Mr. Wiesenthal was a prisoner in a concentration camp during WWII who was taken to the deathbed of a Nazi soldier. The soldier told the prisoner of one unimaginable event he had been part of and asked the prisoner, as a Jew, to forgive him. Mr. Wiesenthal tells how he left the Nazi without saying a word. Mr. Wiesenthal then has the reader ask himself, “What would I have done?” The rest of the book is filled with others’ opinions on whether or not the Nazi soldier should have been forgiven.

    From the passage you have quoted, the answer of forgiveness would be yes. But such an atrocity … I am an empathetic person and it’s difficult for me to imagine myself in Mr. Wiesenthal’s position. The closest I could come to being able to identify with him, would be to imagine if one of my children had been molested and later a child molester asking my forgiveness for something he had done to someone else’s child. How would I possibly forgive him??

  3. Lisa
    August 10, 2010 at 8:19 am

    Phyl, I am going to check out this book. I understand your question. I think we both know the answer to your question from Jesus’ words – [sigh] The Holy Spirit empowers us to forgive atrocious sin – it’s all around us. When it hits personally (your example), the trauma is unthinkable and forgiveness feels unthinkable, too. Forgiving the one who sinned against you and your child would be ongoing. It would require processing all the deep sorrow and angst that goes along with that forgiveness. All in the light of Christ’s cross! Thanks for commenting. We are human beings – we ask these kinds of questions!

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